33 – Deadline

The drive to the station had been less than perfect. Friday rush hour is not the ideal time to face the streets of a city like this. Not that he had a choice, the call had made that very clear.

She takes her time walking down the busy street, letting the sounds and colors from the bustling cafes embrace her. The late evening breeze brings the smell of coffee, freshly baked bread, a dash of Chinese food, even a hint of curry spices.

He punches his fist hard against the automatic ticket booth, startling a group of late commuters. No tickets left for the last train out of town today.

She finds a place at a small Thai restaurant facing the river. A young artist paints a view of the city’s skyline while an elderly Japanese couple snap pictures of the passing boats.

He gets to the airport just in time to get the last remaining seat, leaving in ten minutes. He snatches the boarding pass from the young girl behind the counter, barely paying any attention as she wishes him a pleasant flight. He runs towards the distant gate.

She sips a cup of fragrant tea, a freshly emptied plate in front of her. The young artist left with the last rays of sunlight, his place now taken by a girl playing Mozart on a violin. Coins, and the occasional bill, slowly fill the open case in front of her.

The flight is short, but to him seems like ages. He keeps checking his watch. Disconnected from the world, he feels alone within an empty void. The lights outside the window become brighter as the plane begins to land.

She walks back the same streets. The shops and cafes are mostly closed now, neon and pumping of loud music spewing from a myriad bustling nightclubs. She pulls her collar up against the chilly night breeze.

The stubby driver cheerfully tries to engage in conversation, he barely listens and replies in monosyllables. The city seems so far away. He checks the time again, trying to sound as calm as possible as he declines the offer to take the scenic route.

Unlike the lively streets outside, the cold lights of the room make everything look flat and sterile. She seats quietly outside the door, a rhythmic beep reminding her there’s still some time. She checks her watch.

The taxi moves across the busy streets, caught behind a pickup full of teenagers. They’re in no hurry, slowing down in front of every club to check the girls. He pays the driver and gets off, running thru the crowd. There’s still time.

She feels her heart skip when the rhythmic beep becomes a single sharp note. Men and women dressed in white rush past her into the room. The stillness of the night broken by their frantic efforts.

He rushes up the stairs, only stopping to explain to the night guard that time is fading. The guard speaks into his radio, listens to a static-leaden answer, and lets him go. His phone pings… just two words show on the screen. “Dad’s gone.”

She watches calmly as he walks out of the room. He meets her eyes.

“I really tried to make it. I just…”

His voice trails off as his head drops.

She puts her arms around him and feels his tears on her shoulder.

“I know.” She whispers softly. “I know.”

• • •

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